Update: Google have announced their #MobileMadness campaign to prepare Webmasters for the mobile-friendly ranking change on 21st April. Perhaps a further sign of the potential impact of the update.
Last week Google made an announcement that could mark a significant change in how businesses think about their websites, especially in regards to mobile.
The official release read:
More mobile-friendly websites in search results. Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.
Although this may seem rather vague and potentially unimportant, you should not be fooled into thinking that this won’t have an affect on your site. Google very rarely publicly announce algorithm updates and changes to ranking signals. They undertake work to tweak and change these every week and even day, so to broadcast such a specific change on a given date a couple of months in the future is out of character. This, along with their own description that it will have “significant impact”, may mean that it could affect all websites in some way or another.
This really depends on your own audience. Many sites we manage these days, especially in the B2C and e-commerce fields, now show mobile devices accounting for the majority of their traffic. If this is the case, then clearly not having taken any steps to optimise your site could result in you losing a large portion of your traffic to competitors who Google may start ranking higher in April.
On the reverse side however, we still see many B2B website that have almost 90% of traffic coming from desktop. If this is the case, then it is clearly going to be a lower priority for your business, however definitely should not be forgotten about. Having websites that work seamlessly on all devices is quickly becoming a web standard and you don’t want to be left behind. Also, you never know, just because not many of your site’s users are currently on mobile, doesn’t necessarily mean that you couldn’t change that by correctly optimising your site.
Optimising for mobile will give you some benefit in search engines, and perhaps more in the future, however making your site more usable to any people viewing it on mobile devices is most likely going to be the biggest gain you’ll see.
There are a few main ways you can do this. The first is called responsive design. This is where a single website is created, and all pages adapt using CSS to the detected screen size; showing, hiding, moving and altering elements as appropriate. This is generally a recommended route to take as it covers most possibilities of device, as well as keeping the main content of your website in tact.
Some also see the process of having a separate mobile site as beneficial, so that when a user is not on desktop, they see an entirely different set of pages. This can be done either through separate URLs that are redirected to depending on device detection, or dynamic serving where the pages exist on the same URLs, yet the site outputs different HTML & CSS depending on device. Although not as all encompassing as responsive design, this option can give you a simpler way of working with mobile, as well as giving greater opportunity to strip back your site.
The easiest way is to simply look at it on a mobile and see how it looks. If you are either looking at a very zoomed in version of exactly what you see on your desktop, or everything is shrunk down so it is barely legible, trying to fit a whole desktop screen size into a mobile, then it is likely that no optimisation has been done. If however you see new or different looking content, the writing is easily legible without zooming and the navigation is easy to use, it is likely that is has been optimised.
Google have also created the Mobile Friendly Test. Although rather rudimental currently, testing only a few aspects that create a good mobile site, it is a good indicator of whether any optimisation work has been done.
If you site has not been optimised for mobile, now is a better time than ever before. Different businesses do have different requirements however and you should be confident that the investment will give you satisfactory benefit. We work with all our clients to find the best possible solutions to ensure their website works well in all scenarios, so if you want some advice on what could work best for you, get in contact.